Saturday, August 07, 2010

Second chances

Someone asked if I have ever given someone a second chance.

Yes, and it didn't turn out well. Some people refuse to change. Like my brother-in-law.

Beanie filed for divorce, again, after 26 years of marriage. She has been in an abusive marriage for 26 years and has left him several times. He doesn't beat her. What he does is worse. He abuses her mentally and emotionally and treats her like a possession most of the time and a piece of meat the rest of the time. Well, she filed for divorce and Mom and Hoity-Toity came down on Beanie's husband's side. Beanie had to move out of her house away from her children and animals and the home my father left for her to move in with our brother, the Mushroom (mushroom because he's always in the dark).

Meanwhile, BIL, the brother-in-law, was calling and talking to Hoity-Toity every day and Mom almost as often. Hoity-Toity told BIL who Beanie's attorney was and about all the private stuff Beanie didn't want BIL to know, sold her right down the river. Hoity-Toity has her own agenda, but that's a story for another time. Anyway, BIL called Beanie's attorney and said he was ready to sign the papers and he began working on Beanie.

He went to a psychiatrist and got on Celexa to show that he was trying to change. He bought a futon and moved into the living room, which was before Beanie eventually moved out. He whined and cried and begged and told her he was sorry -- again -- and that he would change. This is a familiar song and dance number he has used in the past, this time with the psychiatrist and medication twist to show that he is serious. In the past he has given up alcohol, promised to changed and managed the change long enough for Beanie to become convinced he really meant it this time, and even started going to church and talking to one of the parishioners and the minister about their problems. He does love to talk about what's wrong with Beanie, I mean, their problems. As soon as Beanie drops the divorce or moves back in and settles down, he goes back to being his abusive self and blaming her for all the trouble. This is known as the end of the honeymoon phase of the abuse cycle, which quickly follows the begging, pleading and apology phase of the cycle.

At any rate, taking medication and seeing a psychiatrist (he only went long enough to get the meds and has already canceled all future appointments), convinced Beanie that he meant it this time. She also missed her boys, 23 and 19, who still live at home and who BIL badgered until they agreed to move out with him when he was planning to move, and her animals, Dad's house and her things. She felt like she was being punished and losing everything while BIL was taking it all from her. She also hated being alone. Living with the Mushroom is still living alone because he's caught up in his own world on Second Life with Jess from London and doesn't pay attention to her. Beanie has never lived alone before.

Fear is a powerful motivator. Add pressure from Mom and Hoity-Toity and the belief that maybe this time BIL really meant to change and giving up everything to be alone, and Beanie caved. "We have had some good times," she told me when we talked on Monday. "It hasn't been all bad. After 26 years, I feel I owe it to him to give him one more chance. But this is the last time."

I've heard this 'last time' speech so many times I could write it in my sleep, and have. I'm still asleep now.

Beanie is co-dependent and she enables the abuse, so she is right in saying that this is partly her fault. Then again, it's not her fault because she is caught in a cycle of emotional abuse. Yes, there are good times because that is how the abuser keeps her off balance and sets her up for the abuse. There has to be a reward in order for it to work. It's not love, as BIL keeps claiming, but control. BIL doesn't like losing control and he will use, and has used, every trick in the book to further his agenda. He gets Mom on his side by appealing to her feelings about divorce being wrong no matter the reason. He appeals to Hoity-Toity's sense of greed by telling her that he'll talk Beanie into selling Dad's house so she can have the money, despite the fact that he and Beanie have a survivor's deed and have been living in the house and paying the mortgage for three years. There's a lot of equity built up in that house after Mom and Dad living there for nearly ten years and BIL and Beanie for another three, equity that Hoity-Toity can use to pay off her debts and cover up that she's been skimming money from Mom's accounts for the past year so she can buy two more houses (a condo and a house) in addition to the condo and house she already owns.

BIL tried appealing to the Mushroom, who went through a divorce a year ago, but the Mushroom wouldn't play. He told BIL, "You can cook, clean, shop for food and work. The only thing you won't have is a relationship. You need to let my sister go and give her whatever she wants."

He knows better than trying to appeal to me because I know him for the skeevy abuser he is and he tries to keep Beanie from talking to me and having anything to do with me. That's also part of the abuse -- isolating the person from family and friends -- and he has isolated Beanie for years. Emotional abuse is all about control. Read about abusive relationships and check out the graph near the bottom on the right.

Not everyone deserves a second chance. BIL certainly doesn't, but Beanie can't see it because she's caught in the cycle of abuse. Some people never get a second chance because they're dead or brain dead from being abused.

It's not just abusers who don't deserve a second chance, but anyone who has no intention of changing. Seldom do men and women who cheat on their spouses and lovers give up cheating. Once in a while, it's a one-time incident, but on average people who cheat once will cheat again, and they'll lie to cover up their activities.

Be careful about giving second chances. Weigh all the factors and pay attention to what has gone before. If you're in an abusive relationship and want to give your abuser one more chance, talk to a counselor or doctor. You may be co-dependent and/or an enabler and the best thing you can do is get out. You can always get more stuff and, if you're afraid of living alone, find a roommate. No one should have to live this way. The only way to deal with people like that is to starve them of their food source -- you.

Okay, that wasn't what I intended to write about, but sometimes I just go with it.

That is all. Disperse.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

In the good old summertime

The best summer job I ever had was being a teenager. I never had just a summer job. When I began working, it was year round.

My first real job, outside of baby sitting and doing odd jobs around the neighborhood when I was ten, was working at Gilbert's shoe storm on Town Street in downtown Columbus, Ohio. I had to get a permit to work since I was only fifteen. I began as a salesgirl in the accessories department selling wallets, purses, shoe laces, etc. and then was promoted to cashier. With the job came a 20% discount on shoes. I had a lot of shoes in those days and spent a good portion of my paycheck in the store. How could I resist the newest styles and fashions? It was the only time I had a lot of shoes. I was fifteen and shoes were important to me then. I had a few handbags, too. Not so much now. I have four pairs of shoes: tennis shoes, slingback short heels, 3-inch black suede heels and sandals. I mostly wear the tennis shoes.

I moved from Gilbert's to a part time job at McDonald's. That lasted about six months before I got a job working with my mother at a data processing job. I made $100 a week 1971. The minimum wage then was $1.65/hour and I made $2.50 an hour, enough to buy my father a diamond tie tack for his birthday and my mother a pair of quarter karat diamond earrings for her birthday. I bought all my own clothes and gas for the car I bought with my own money. I had a lot of money in savings even though I paid room at board at home every week. I continued working in data processing for 25 years, moving to medical transcription and office management along the way. I still work in medical transcription, from home now, and supplement my income by writing book reviews and selling essays, articles, stories and books. I haven't sold enough books to quit my job, but I sell enough that I have to put aside a chunk of my income for taxes at the end of the year. I make a lot more than $100 a week forty years later.

No, my best summer job was being a teenager with no responsibilities and going to the pool when I could scrounge up enough money. I was told my parents couldn't afford a season ticket, which cost $15 in those long ago days, to the Hilltop Swim Club, which is why I started working. Until then, I sun bathed in the back yard, read a lot of books, walked everywhere with my friends and listened to a lot of rock and roll music. Those were the days.

That is all. Disperse.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Writing sex and death

Ever since I saw the movie Atonement I wanted to read the book. I find out about a lot of writers by watching adaptations of their work. I finally had some time and had Ian McEwan's book, so I sat down and dove into the story.

Much of the movie stuck pretty close to McEwan's book -- until the end. That's when everything changed. Briony, in her seventies and just diagnosed with a slow decline into senility, has rewritten and sent her story to the publishers who have brought out all her previous work. The first draft of the book was written fifty years and five years after she accused Robbie Turner of raping her cousin Lola the night the twins ran away. She finally understood what was going on between Robbie and her sister Cecilia and wants to make amends. She will recant the testimony that put Robbie in a mental hospital for nearly four years and he can come back and pick up his life where he left off, go to medical school and be a successful and respected doctor without the specter of rape and mentally ill hanging over him and Cecilia. They can be happy and get married and move on with their life. She will have atoned for her sins.

That's not how it ends.

Robbie did indeed die of a septic wound from shrapnel and Cee died in a bombing that took out the tube station near where she lived. Briony's book cannot be published because Lola and Paul Marshall are now married and very wealthy and would sue the publisher for libel. You cannot libel the dead, but Lola and Paul aren't dead and Briony's mind and life are raveling out so fast it isn't likely she will survive to see her book published and Robbie vindicated posthumously. The bad guys win or, in this case, the bad guy and girl win.

From what little I've read of McEwan's work, and some of the reviews of his other books, the bad guys usually win in the end. McEwan has a fascination with sex and death that permeates everything I have read so far, including the stories in first love, last rites, most of which are crude and shocking in their descent into the depths of the connections between sex and death.

A pedophile who blames his unpopularity on his weak chin takes advantage of a young girl, exposes himself and makes her touch his penis and then kills her because no one can know what he's done. Then he poses as an innocent man who just happened to see the dead girl drifting down the canal from the bridge above. That's his story and of course no one believes him because he has a weak chin, almost no chin, just a straight slide from his lower lip down to his neck. The story is creepy and delves into the mind of an anti-social, whining, wretch who is obviously mentally ill. In that sense, McEwan captures the character perfectly.

At first I felt sorry for the guy, but it didn't take long for pity and sympathy to turn to disgust. Most of the stories begin and end in the same vein. One sexually precocious pre-pubescent boy glorying in his mastery of all things bad over his mate decides a trial run before convincing the town tramp, who will let him look at her quim for a shilling, is in order. He lures his much younger sister into a new twist on the game of Mummies and Daddies while his parents are out so he can see the female plumbing ahead of time and have sex with her. He succeeds with the help of his little sister who knows more about her body than her older brother and is shocked and upset when he pees inside her. All of this is told by a bragging, preening boy who is so generous he allows his father and uncles to gift him with a shilling when he makes more money than they do through criminal acts. After all, his father and uncles are so proud of being able to give him the shilling he doesn't want to spoil their feelings of generosity and kindness. It's not the money he enjoys, but the superiority over his elders. No doubt, he too will get away with it, as do all the perfidious and evil-minded characters in McEwan's stories.

It seems McEwan is fascinated by meanness of spirit and spiritually and emotionally stunted people who succeed at everything they do no matter who has to suffer in the process. Sex and death are integral parts of Atonement as they are in McEwan's short stories and, from what I've read, in his Booker Prize winning novel, Amsterdam. There is no doubt of McEwan's mastery of prose and his intricately plotted and executed stories, but the unsavory characters who manage to get decent people to do their dirty work for them seem to be the point of his theme. It's not just sex and death that infuse McEwan's work with life, but the perversion of sex and twisted deaths that are at the heart of them all.

What's needed is more research and more reading to get to the bottom of McEwan's themes and the driving force behind his portrayal of the darkness that inevitably triumphs.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Unraveling the Gordian knot

Alexander the Great faced an impossible situation, one that scholars, philosophers and soldiers had failed to solve, how to untie the Gordian knot. This intricate knot turned in and about on itself that it seemed to have no beginning and no end. Faced with the need to solve the puzzle of the knot, Alexander took out his sword and sliced through the knot. He, should you pardon the pun, cut through to the heart of the matter.

It has been proposed that the situation with the war in Afghanistan is another Gordian knot: an intractable problem that needs a bold solution that will cut to the heart of the matter. Should we continue to send men and resources and money to fight in Afghanistan or should we pull out? What is the modern equivalent to Alexander's sword and the Gordian knot?

In a recent discussion I asked if a nuclear bomb was the modern version of Alexander's sword to answer the intractable problem of Afghanistan and was immediately set upon by people claiming I was inciting hatred and being casual about the millions of lives that would be lost in a nuclear attack on Afghanistan, and all from a simple question. Are nukes the modern equivalent of Alexander's sword?

Despite claiming the only answer is peace and because I am an American I prefer war to peace, these peace loving people attempted to school me on what Europe wants. I asked a simple question. I did not mean that I seriously believe that dropping nukes on Afghanistan is the answer or that we should even be there in the first place. I asked a simple question.

I was told I needed to find out what a Gordian knot really is and read Aristotle before I responded further to one Brit. She assumed that I was uneducated and ignorant of history and philosophy. She said Europe was tired of war and wanted only to deal with the economic war on their doorstep.

One Canadian claimed I was inciting hatred by my question and that I shouldn't joke about such things. My question was not a joke. I said that I was not serious about dropping nukes on Afghanistan and from that he decided I meant the question as a joke. It was no joke.

Civilization and teaching children peace is the answer to violence in the world. That is a simplistic answer to a very thorny problem. Civilization breeds war. When everyone was fighting to survive, there were no wars. There were skirmishes between groups and some groups attacked groups where there was more food in a time of famine, or to capture members of the other tribe to be used as food, but there were no wars. That took civilization. The skirmishes over food and territory were not wars any more than squabbles between groups of primates over food, mates and territory are wars. With civilization comes war.

People living together for comfort and safety, working the land, building homes, and buying and selling is the oil-soaked tinder that ignites the need for war. Prosperity takes work and the greater the prosperity the more work there is to do. One person, or a small group of people, like a family, are not enough hands. Slaves are needed. Getting slaves means war.

Running out of salt or gold or resources? Your neighbor has all those things or will at least provide a source of slavers, so it's time to go to war. It's the have nots against the haves. People seem to miss that small distinction.

Warring armies sweep across the countryside, annexing land, taking slaves and killing anyone who gets in the way, especially peaceful people who will not fight and who believe that talking and offering a peaceful solution will cool the hot blood of a man soaked in gore and covered with scars. A soldier has no time for peace. He's used to killing to get what he wants, and a peace-loving person or group of people makes his job a lot easier.

It's like a schoolyard bully. He preys on the weak and the peaceful and avoids the ones who could easily kick his ass. People may want peace, but they must also be willing to embrace violence to obtain and maintain peace. That's something else peace-loving people don't get. It is the army and force and the willingness to do violence that buys their peace.

Everything has a price. The price of peace is violence.

There have been too many writers and philosophers who have examined this question for it not to be widely understood. Watch Serenity, The Enemy Within from Star Trek or read any number of books, beginning with Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde. Man cannot exist or survive without the potential for violence. It is on that most basic of instincts to do violence that our very ability to survive is based. To be strong requires determination and grit. Violence can be controlled by intellect and balance is maintained, but until everyone in the entire world learns balance, we must keep our senses and survival instincts sharply honed or go peacefully back to the earth. The only peace thus obtained is the peace of the grave.

It's complicated

I was watching It's Complicated again, for the tenth time, and had one of those ah-ha moments. I never had the kind of relationship that Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin had as a married couple, not in either of my marriages. Both times I was caught in a bad situation and made the best of things by getting married.

One of the things I've learned by watching It's Complicated is about what brings people together. I've also learned to recognize love. I never had that with either of my husbands. I see that now. I saw it when I asked for a divorce and I knew it then because it was so easy for me to walk away. No tears. No emotional breakdowns. No psychic upheavals. When I found out both husbands were cheating on me I was relieved because I had a way out. They gave me a get out of jail free card and I used it. Divorce was cut and dried the first time and difficult the second time; Nick didn't want to lose his meal ticket (me) and getting rid of him, most of my friends and family heard me say, was like scraping gum off the bottom of my shoe on a hot August day. It took strategy and moving away with no forwarding address, and two years of waiting him out, to get my legal freedom.

There have been two men in my life I have loved. I walked away from the first one because I was tired of being disappointed, weary of him making promises he never kept, and waiting for him to make up his mind about what he was going to do. He wouldn't move ahead, so I moved away, and I cried for weeks.

The other man has kept me dangling for six years and I have decided I'm not waiting any longer for him either. I love him still, but he's never going to be the man I want or need. Fear keeps him from moving forward, fear of losing his stuff and fear of an uncertain future. I cannot offer him a guarantee that everything will work out. I don't know that. I only know that I love him and I'll do everything and anything to work things out. That only works if there are two people willing to work. I cannot do it alone and he's not going to help, so I'm done. I've waited long enough, listened to enough empty words and apologies. He's a coward, and I know about cowards. He won't change so I'm making the decision he won't. I've ended it.

Just as Meryl Streep knew there was no way back with Alec Baldwin, I know there is no way forward with him. I love him. He will always be a part of my life, but I have shed enough tears, nursed enough pain and waited silent and alone for long enough. We are done. I wish him well, but he won't be happy. He hasn't been happy all these years, but he's used to the fear and depression and his stuff. That will have to be enough for him. For me, there is an open door and an open road and I plan to explore them both.

That's what happens with really good movies. They mirror the truths of life and make you think while you laugh and cry and sigh in the darkness. I will watch It's Complicated again and again and yet again because it's a great movie with some wonderful poignant and funny moments (how could it not with Steve Martin as the romantic lead?), and because I find truth and honesty, not only in the actors' performances, but in the story. Someone knows whereof they speak, and they made me think and reassess my life. I don't want to go back, but I can move forward. That's the great thing about movies and life, there's always another good movie and another good day ahead.

That is all. Disperse.